Parvo is the common name for the highly contagious viral disease canine parvovirus. It is contracted from the feces of infected dogs and can be transmitted on shoes, car tires, other animals, food bowls and pavement. It can kill dogs rapidly -- they can be dead two or three days after the onset of symptoms, meaning the symptoms of the parvo illness can also be the symptoms of death. Survival depends on quick diagnosis and immediate treatment.
The initial symptoms appear quickly and consist of lethargy, lack of appetite, fever, vomiting and diarrhea with blood in it. It will be quickly apparent that you have a very sick dog, and you should get him to the vet as quickly as possible. Other gastrointestinal illnesses can produce some of the same symptoms parvo does. Fecal tests and blood cell counts can confirm the presence of parvo.
Fluid loss from vomiting and diarrhea quickly leads to dehydration. Parvo affects the intestines, preventing normal absorption of proteins and fluid. This worsens the dehydration, often causing rapid weight loss and weakening of the animal before the immune system can fight the virus. The tissue around the eyes and mouth can become red, the heart beats too rapidly and the pulse is poor. The dog will have obvious abdominal pain.
Dogs at Highest Risk
Puppies and adolescent dogs have the greatest risk of infection, as their immune systems are not fully developed. Puppies are best kept away from public parks and areas where they can come into contact with other dogs or their waste. Puppies should be vaccinated against parvo initially when they're 5 to 6 weeks old, then every three to four weeks until they are at least 3 months old. Dog breeds that have a higher risk of contracting parvo are Rottweilers, Doberman pinschers and German shepherds.
Treatment and Survival Rates
Over 70 percent of dogs with parvo die if they are left untreated. The Merck Veterinary Manual reports that the survival rate of treated dogs is 68 percent to 92 percent, underscoring the importance of timely veterinary treatment. Survival rates depend on how quickly the diagnosis is made and treatment is started. Chances of survival also depend on how old an affected dog is. Treatment usually calls for intravenous fluids to keep the dog hydrated, anti-nausea injections and antibiotics.